Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Understanding noise pollution in the oceans

Canada's Ocean Observatory from Ocean Networks Canada
This 5 minute video introduces Ocean Networks Canada and its ocean observatory consisting of VENUS, the coastal network and NEPTUNE Canada, the regional network.
The observatory is a world-class facility enabling researchers in Canada and around the world to conduct transformative ocean research using innovative and disruptive technologies

From TheWorld

Sound travels much faster in water than in air, and thus plays an enormous role in the lives of marine species.
Reef fish rely on sounds to communicate.
So do whales and dolphins.

But over the last century, we humans have filled the oceans with noise.
Most of our commerce happens through ships which are noisy.
We’re increasingly exploring the marine environment for oil, using airguns and underwater explosions.

So, how is this noise pollution affecting marine animals?
That’s what Michel AndrĂ© has been trying to answer for most of his career.
He’s a bioacoustics expert at the Technical University of Catalonia, in Barcelona.
I first spoke with André back in April this year, when I blogged about his study showing human-made noises in the ocean may be hurting giant squids.

An octopus sits on a drillhead used by scientists at the University of Victoria.
The drillhead’s named Cork, and hence it’s inhabitant, this octopus was nicknamed Corky.
(Photo: NEPTUNE Canada)

Until recently, Andre had limited access to sounds in the seas.
He could only work with sounds recorded over brief periods of time from a boat out in sea.

So “the dream was to have the (acoustic) data flowing to our desks,” says Andre.

Recent technological developments have helped make that dream come true.
Now, scientists all over the world are putting underwater microphones in our oceans and connecting them to satellites or to the Internet.
So researchers like Andre can continuously monitor the marine soundscape and do so in real time.

Spider crabs (Macroregonia macrochira) were frequent visitors as NEPTUNE Canada installed instruments and tested communications at various Endeavour Ridge sites. This crab extended a leg to touch the gear. (Photo: NEPTUNE Canada)

That’s why a few years ago, he launched an ambitious global project called Listening to the Deep Ocean.
It connects existing deep sea microphones (they were put in place mostly by geologists interested in studying under water seismic activities) to a website.
You can learn more about his project in my story which aired on The World today.

The website allows anyone to listen to sounds in the deep ocean.
You can click below to hear some of the sounds these underwater microphones are recording.
They include sounds of ships, under water explosions, humpback whales and dolphins.

It is still early days for Andre’s project.
So we’ll have to wait to see what he learns about the impacts of noise pollution in the oceans.
In the meantime though, he thinks he’s on the verge of a major discovery from analyzing sounds from a network of microphones off Vancouver Island, in Canada.
“We are suspecting that we might detect the presence of the right whale,” says Andre.

That’s the North Pacific right whale, which hasn’t been seen in the region for some 30 years.

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